Cameron Shelton Plays With A Fire That’s Been Burning Long Before He Became The Star Guard For Damien High •
Story by DEVIN UGLAND | Photos by SAMUEL STRINGER
Cameron Shelton’s unmitigated desire to win goes back as far as he can remember.
In elementary school, the blacktop courts would be buzzing with kids hooping at recess and lunchtime, but Shelton often found himself alone, playing on a court by himself because nobody wanted to deal with the consequences if they beat him.
“When I was a kid I was the worst loser ever,” Shelton recalls. “In elementary school no one would want to play with me because they knew I would go too hard all the time. I hated losing so much I would throw a fit. I would be so mad, I’d be crying.”
Shelton’s outbursts became so turbulent that family members had to intervene before and after recreation league games to make sure he kept his cool if things didn’t go his way.
“My parents and grandparents would always have to have a conversation with me about being a good sport,” he said.
His father, Lafayette, broke out in laughter when asked to describe how his son responded to losing as a child.
“I was okay with it because he wasn’t a bratty kid,” Lafayette said. “My dad made it a bigger deal. He would try and give Cameron these pep talks after games and my mom and my wife and I would just laugh because Cameron wasn’t listening to it at all. Losing was the end of the world.”
But as Shelton continued to grow and mature, he turned that bad energy into a ferocious spirit to become one of the most versatile and productive high school basketball players in California.
The 6-foot-2, chiseled 185-pound combo guard has an unparalleled work ethic that earned him a spot on the Chino Hills varsity as a freshman — a team featuring current Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball and his brother, LiAngelo Ball — which was a spot that was far from guaranteed.
“The summer before he enrolled at Chino Hills as a freshman, they brought in all the eighth graders to a summer league and they were grooming him to play freshmen basketball because they had two other freshmen pegged to play varsity,” Lafayette remembers. “When Cam came into the mix, he worked his way on to varsity and he was the freshman that made it and actually started.”
Shelton helped Chino Hills reach the CIF State Division I championship game during his freshman season and was the sixth man on the Huskies record-setting 35-0 team that won the Southern Section Open Division and CIF Open Division championships during his sophomore campaign.
Lafayette credits the Ball family and their training regiment with helping his son turn the corner from a maturity standpoint.
“When he got in to the Ball brother’s household, they just took his mindset of hating to lose to another level,” he said. “He went to a more mature level because he got a chance to see how Lonzo and Gelo responded to winning and losing. I’m so glad that he trained with LaVar and the Ball brothers because they really catapulted that mindset.”
But It wasn’t until Shelton transferred to Damien High in La Verne for his junior season that he was able to fully realize his basketball potential.
“I think being at Chino Hills was the best thing I could have done, but I think leaving was too,” Cameron said. “They definitely taught me how to work and what it takes to compete at a championship level. I’ve been trying to bring that to every team I’m on.”
The work ethic and competitive spirit Shelton has developed over the course of his prep basketball career, along with the way he has his hands in every statistical category, earned him the “Russell Westbrook of high school basketball” moniker for his all-around impact on the game. All of which is a direct result of the ruthlessness and relentlessness in which he plays with.
Shelton, who lives in Inglewood, rises at 4:30 in the morning and makes the 50-mile trek into La Verne where he gets up between 300 and 600 shots on the shooting gun before school starts. After school, he heads directly to practice, lifts weights after that, then makes his way to his individual workout with trainer Keith Howard.
“I don’t really know how to describe it, but I think it’s just my pride and the fact that I’m so competitive,” Shelton says of why he works so hard. “Every time I step on the court I know guys are coming at me and I don’t want to ever have someone say they were better than me when stepping on the court. I always try and be the most dominant player on the court.”
Shelton’s high school coach at Damien, Mike LeDuc, expressed sheer bewilderment at how hard his senior guard pushes himself.
“His work ethic is ridiculously good and positive,” LeDuc said. “He probably works out more than he should between being physically fit with his weight lifting and conditioning to basketball where he works on his shot and skills. He’s such a fierce competitor. He does not give in or give up to anybody— and he wants to win tremendously bad.”
Shelton’s club coach with West Coast Elite, George Zedan, mirrored LeDuc’s thoughts on his work ethic.
“Honestly, we ask him about how he never gets tired,” Zedan said. “He plays with a relentlessness and toughness, both mental and physical, that is very impressive. He’s the ultimate competitor.”
Shelton’s passion for winning, improving his own game and bringing those around him up to his level paid immediate dividends for Damien.
The Spartans posted a 31-5 overall record during Shelton’s junior campaign, reaching the CIF Southern Section Open Division quarterfinals and CIF State Division Southern Regional semifinals as Shelton stuffed the stat sheet, averaging 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals a game.
“I do think that it’s infectious when we can get guys in the gym who have that kind of mentality,” LeDuc said of Shelton’s ability to raise the program’s level of drive and determination. “There’s competition for everything and our guys strive on competition. I think he leads that on our team.”
Still, despite posting a 115-16 overall record so far as a high school varsity player, and producing game-in and game-out at the highest levels of high school and club competition, Shelton was recruited lightly at the Division I level. He signed with Northern Arizona in the fall even though many thought he should have been recruited at a much higher level.
Some of the questions surrounding Shelton’s game were and are still things like: what position will he play at the next level? Does he handle it well enough to be a point? Does he shoot it well enough to be a two guard?
But instead of those doubts making Shelton revert back to the immature kid who would’ve let them get inside his head in a negative way, the grounded senior is using them to light a bigger fire underneath him.
“I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder no matter what,” he said. “I’m always going to come out and play hard whether I went to the top school or to the lowest school, because that work ethic never goes away.”